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    Creating Opportunities for Family Literacy, Part 2: Suggested Skill Areas to Target for Children Ages 0–6

    By Jeanne Smith
     | Nov 07, 2018
    Creating Family Literacy Opportunities

    This is the second installment of a two-part series about creating opportunities in adult education to address family literacy. It addresses skills areas to target where parents and children can work together to achieve progress.

    Read Part 1 here.

    Vocabulary/language

    Beginning school with a strong vocabulary is a necessary component for school success. Research shows that engaging children in conversation and building their oral language capacity supports the learning of new words. Both adult students and their children can enjoy simple books with rich language and pictures to enhance comprehension. 

    For example, after reading about colors entitled, Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh (Harcourt), one adult student and his daughter looked in and around the house while referring to the book and located different objects with the same colors. Another favorite title in this category is Quiet, Loud by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick), which demonstrates the meanings of opposites, has delightful illustrations, and is fun to read.

    Facilitating parents’ confidence with extended activities after reading a book in order to build vocabulary is a priority. Books and other tools that teach the basics such as numbers, shapes, animals, and the alphabet should also be included.

    Response to literature

    Parents can encourage their young children’s reactions and ideas about situations while reading and talking about books. This helps set the stage for response to literature or constructing meaning from what they read.

    Speechsound development and the speech-to-print connection

    It is a magical moment when children make the connection between the sound /m/ and reading the actual letter “m.” Parents can learn the sequence of speech–sound development, watch for developmental milestones, and begin to teach which letters represent what sounds. Parents can teach their young children how to write their letters and numbers.

    Phonological awareness including rhyming

    Good phonological awareness skills are foundational for literacy achievement, and parents can learn to foster phonological awareness in their children using nursery rhymes and songs. All young children enjoy reciting nursery rhymes and singing while clapping or tapping out the beats in single and multisyllable word combinations. Phonological awareness includes awareness of three things: single sounds or phonemes, rhyme, and syllable/beat awareness. Rhyme and beat awareness is precisely where students turn their attention when they read and recite nursery rhymes.

    Beyond learning the alphabet, teaching letter-sound association is essential. Parents who are working to improve their own basic skills will give their children a great advantage by helping the children learn the distinction between letter names and letter sounds. This may circumvent a stumbling block teachers in elementary schools often observe in children who are struggling to read when children do not know the difference.

    Phonemic Awareness

    After adult students and their children learn the letter sounds, they can move to blending sounds to read/decode words. One way to reach this goal is to use books that come with sound cards such as Bob’s Books: Rhyming Words  (Scholastic) to teach matching beginning sounds with ending sounds (d-an, p-an, m-an). In the plots of the stories, the books include both the same words learned with the sounds cards as well as common sight vocabulary.

    As a result, both the blending of sounds to decode and the building of a sight vocabulary is combined, and the parent and the child can practice together reading a simple story. Creating opportunities where parents and children can learn and practice together is a key element in developing effective and exciting opportunities for family literacy.

    Moving ahead

    As progress occurs, practice reading longer children’s books such as The Sunset Pond by Laura Appleton Smith (Flyleaf Publishing) is the next step. Incorporating select titles such as this one, where previously learned syllable types, multi-syllable words, and sight words are used to create longer stories is highly supportive of adults who might be still be learning to read or read better themselves.

    The goal is to offer parents reading practice with well selected books during instructional time to help them feel confident reading the same books out loud, at home, while their children follow along. As a result. children will enjoy reading longer books and stories with their parents, and the creation a solid foundation for further education will be fostered.

    Jeanne H. Smith is a literacy specialist at the Community High School of Vermont (CHSVT) and a member of the Special Services Support team. CHSVT serves students 18 years of age and older.

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    Celebrating National Family Literacy Day

    By Bailee Formon
     | Nov 01, 2018
    National Family Literacy Day 2018

    Parents and caregivers play a critical role in children’s literacy development and lifelong achievement. First held in 1994, National Family Literacy Day highlights the importance of family literacy by encouraging parents and caregivers to engage in their child’s learning. Following are some links to websites and organizations that provide resources, information, and ideas for promoting literacy as a family-wide activity.

    • Startwithabook.org allows parents and caregivers to easily find books that fit their child’s topics of interest and reading level. The website also provides ideas for hands-on activities that foster literacy development.
    • Reading Rockets’ Family Guide contains tips and information for families regarding the steps they can take to become more involved at school and at home. The site also includes videos and fun activities to enhance learning.
    • The ILA E-ssentials article titled “Supporting Parents as Valuable Partners in their Children’s Literacy Learning” explores current evidence related to ways educators can create effective partnerships with families diverse in race, culture, education, and income.
    • A Literacy Daily post by Sherri Wilson, a founding board member of the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement and senior director of Consultative Services at Scholastic,titled “Building the Capacity to Engage All Families” offers advice for planning meaningful family engagement events.
    • The National Center on Improving Literacy provides articles and guides specifically for families that help facilitate literacy activities at home. This site is especially helpful for families of children with learning disabilities.
    • One of the resources highlighted by the National Center on Improving Literacy is The Literacy Pages for Families, which focuses on skills such as reading, writing, and listening by creating games and activities that parents and caregivers can participate in with their children to make the learning experience more enjoyable. Each activity contains an explanation of the purpose of the game as well as a list of additional readings.
    • Curated by children themselves, ILA’s Children’s Choices Reading List contains book recommendations for children of varying grade levels.  
    • Literacy Works provides families with a wide range of information, from book suggestions and lists of fun, engaging learning activities to newsletters and research briefs.
    • ReadWriteThink offers tips, printouts, and information for families as well as podcasts, games, and tools for children of all ages. The categories are organized by grade level, making it easy to access specific games and learning activities.
    • Byron V. Garrett, chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance and director of educational leadership and policy for Microsoft, spoke about transforming education through meaningful family engagement at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits.
    • The American Academy of Pediatrics’  Books Build Connections Toolkit provides useful resources, strategies, and tools to support strong family reading habits.
    Bailee Formon is an intern at the International Literacy Association.
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    Creating Opportunities for Family Literacy, Part 1: A Foundation

    By Jeanne Smith
     | Oct 31, 2018
    Family Literacy Activities

    This is the second installment of a two-part series about creating opportunities in adult education to address family literacy.

    Read Part 2 here.

    As a teacher and specialist in adult literacy education, I believe our greatest allies and partners in creating family literacy programs are adult students who are parents themselves. These adults are already experts on their own children’s development, and for many, the desire to help their children is the reason they enter basic literacy, adult basic education, or high school diploma programs.

    Although they may desire to do otherwise, we often see adult students leave the entire responsibility for teaching their children to daycare workers, preschool teachers, librarians, and kindergarten and elementary school teachers. These parents may lack confidence about what they already know and may not have the right tools to help their children get started learning at home. By the time a child reaches third or fourth grade, his or her parents may have missed opportunities for creating a solid foundation for further education, such as being a role model for reading and learning, building a home library, and providing the bonding experiences created by family read-alouds.

    Family literacy, particularly for those adults who are still working to build their own basic skills, is more than reading to children. It calls for books and other materials that are not only age appropriate but targeted for various sets of skills where the parent can lead the child. It calls for opportunities to expose parents to research which affirms and expands upon what they already observe and know about their own children, and provides tools, support, and feedback.

    Quality family literacy work aims to engage parents in understanding the layout, sequence, and overall content of children’s books. Beginning with board books, for example, parents can be introduced to comprehension activities, such as acting out the story line and making meaningful connections to their own lives. Next, parents can learn how to introduce reading skills to their children in a way that parallels their own instruction. Parents need to go home with books and materials they learn with during their own instruction, use them with their children, and report back about their parent–child literacy experiences.

    Family literacy also requires time, which is usually in short supply. Adults rush in and out of their classes while juggling jobs, day care schedules, and appointments. Therefore, adult literacy teachers who are parents of young children should consider providing family literacy work as a significant portion of time during a regularly scheduled lesson or class.

    A workshop or series of workshops about family literacy practice where child care is provided and where other family members can attend might also be considered as long as feedback and follow-up support are a part of the workshop. Whatever format works to include family literacy, sharing research about language and literacy development always sparks interest and questions.

    Jeanne H. Smith is a literacy specialist at the Community High School of Vermont and a member of the Special Services Support team. CHSVT serves students 18 years of age and older.

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    Marking Text With Special Education Students: Ditch the Tech

    By Jonathan Pickles
     | Oct 30, 2018

    Marking TextLet me begin by saying that I embrace technology in my sixth-grade language arts classroom, but there are times when tried-and-true methods, however archaic or old school they may seem, are the best tools for the task at hand.

    It’s easy to feel pressured by the technology tide that is rolling through the academic world; I have many colleagues who feel guilty when they assign a worksheet or ask their students to complete a workbook activity. Truth be told, in the spirit of differentiating instruction for all students, there are situations where that mimeographed exercise from 1979 is the best tool for a particular student at a particular time.

    I encourage you to ditch the tech and try a timeless technique that has endured since the first word was printed on a page: marking text. I’m referring to annotation, or writing in the margins of books.

    Readers across time and across the world have read with a pen or pencil in hand, ready to mark an important paragraph or scribble their innermost thoughts in response to a relevant passage.

    Low-skilled readers often have difficulty in establishing a purpose for reading. If they are compliant, they may want to please the teacher and search through literary or informational text to find an “answer.” If this is the case, they can’t see the forest for the trees. Conversely, if they are prompted to find the “big idea” or “message,” they won’t see the trees for the forest.

    This is especially true of my special education students, who, although willing to please and work hard for the most part, often miss out on the journey and the simple joys of reading. This leads to frustration and confusion, which quenches their spirits and quashes any chance of developing a growth mind-set. As such, they have had limited success in building their language arts skills.

    Low-skilled readers need to know that their reading reactions may matter more than finding the answer or message in a text. Students can begin annotating right away. Try this: Ask your students to help you make a list of possible emotional reactions a reader might have while reading. A reader might be amused or angry. Perhaps they agree or disagree strongly with a passage. Maybe they despise or love a certain character in a story or are surprised by the thrust of a news article.

    After you and your students have a list of reactions, assign a simple icon to each. For example, to mark agreement, use a check mark. To note disagreement, make an X. Use emojis where possible, as your students are most definitely familiar with them. A happy face can note amusement.

    If the students own the books or texts that they are reading, they can annotate directly—mark a passage, draw the icon or emoji, and write a few words about why they had a particular reaction. If they do not own the texts, simply do this on a sticky note and affix it to the relevant passage.

    Students can share their reactions with seat partners. They can use their annotations in literature circles or reading groups. Probe the readers as to why they reacted a certain way and celebrate differences. Draw their attention to the reading journey itself.

    Your students will have had a positive reading experience, which is a success in and of itself. This will boost engagement immediately and reap rewards beyond what you might have expected. And the only technology you will have used is the printed page.

    Jonathan Pickles has taught language arts at the middle and secondary levels for more than 20 years. He has worked in both public and private schools in California, Connecticut, and New York. Jonathan currently resides in Dutchess County’s gorgeous Hudson Valley with his wife, daughters, cats, dogs, and one very lucky goldfish. For more, visit www.picklesandbooks.com.

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    When Collaborative Professional Learning Influences Curriculum, Part 2: The Process of Curricular Improvement

    By Christina Dobbs and Jacy Ippolito
     | Oct 23, 2018

    Collaborative PLThis is the second installment of a two-part blog series about a standout school teacher collaboration around disciplinary literacy and citizenship, as an instructional focus. Read Part 1, A Case of Disciplinary Literacy Professional Learning and Instruction, here.

    The Baker team began by identifying a time of year when they could potentially pilot a bounded, interdisciplinary project. In this way, the team created a pilot space in which they could rapidly shape and redesign curriculum, without having to necessarily disturb entire curricula across multiple content areas. The team identified a week between other units of instruction and considered learning goals that seemed to cut across disciplines. This process led to rich conversations about the discipline-specific and interdisciplinary skills they would like to see students build more fully and that they’d like to provide more instruction around.

    Choose shared literacy skills that are important across the curriculum

    Next, the Baker team deeply considered their students’ reading and writing engagement as an area they’d like to improve. One key goal they set was to provide highly engaging experiences that were interdisciplinary so that students could feel a sense of authentic reasons for learning and connectedness to their own literacy skills. They also wanted students to do more “response writing” to capture their experiences. Finally, they wished to include the notion of multiple texts, which we had learned about in workshops together, to help students achieve some of these goals. Then, the team identified a central “habit of mind” that might help students focus and deepen their learning. The team identified citizenship as a key focus area, a unifying concept that linked multiple disciplinary skills and disparate content and experiences. By choosing a bounded space and timeframe and an interdisciplinary focus with these practices, the team created a clear experimental space within which to try out newly adapted and adopted disciplinary literacy instructional practices.

    Plan instruction for the bounded space

    The team at Baker created a set of multimodal texts designed to emphasize national and local ideas of citizenship, including reflective writing tasks to accompany the texts and experiences. The team elected to do a few small readings on the topic, to take students to participate in a local mock Senate experience, to view the film Hidden Figures, and to volunteer at a local charity. They conceived of these tasks because they emphasized various content disciplines and related skills within those disciplines. The governance skills in the mock Senate experience related to the habits of mind promoted in the social studies curriculum, the Hidden Figures film furthered math and science habits of mind, and so on. Ultimately, the team considered how to connect teachers’ and students’ experiences across these tasks to really deepen students’ collective understanding of citizenship and to see what would happen to students’ reading and writing engagement as a result.

    Collect information about what happens in the pilot space

    The team was then able, within this bounded and shared pilot space, to consider how students reacted to these practices and whether reading and writing engagement seemed to improve and whether multiple texts seemed to help hone student learning. They carefully observed students in the variety of spaces they had created during their week, and they collected work products from the week to determine what students had learned. Of course, the team found some positive results of their approach and some areas they would like to improve. For instance, they found high levels of engagement with many of the ideas presented in the multimodal text set. As a result of working with the text set, the team felt that students really learned and deepened their idea of what citizenship means. They also found some lovely facets of the reflective writing they had asked students to do, as students found space to discuss their feelings about their learning. However, they also felt that adding more structure and guidelines to the writing process might improve the experience in the future.

    Plan for the future and for curricula in the disciplines

    The team then took what they had learned in their pilot space to plan for subsequent learning. The team first elected that they’d like to continue Citizenship Week as a tradition because of its many opportunities to work in interdisciplinary ways, to pilot new practices, and to provide meaningful connections between disciplines for students. More broadly speaking, though, the team’s discussion had bigger implications for curricula improvement. They began to identify pilot practices from their Citizenship Week that they wished to implement in individual disciplines and across them. Multiple texts and text sets were a structure that they felt had promise for various disciplinary classes for eighth graders, and they immediately began planning to implement new text sets in their individual curricula.

    Collect and reflect on the instruction outside the pilot space and make recommendations about what is working

    Finally, the team tried out the practices in their own curricular spaces (and sometimes across them) to keep considering how students literacy skills might be improved. These practices are now becoming more widely spread across grades and are a topic of conversation for adoption schoolwide.

    Reflecting on this pilot space process for curricular improvement

    As outside consultants to this project, we were excited by this approach and by the teachers’ confidence in and agreement about the practices they wanted to pilot in their various disciplinary curricula. They didn’t all implement the same practices in exactly the same ways, but they had a plan in place about who would do what and a theory of change about what they’d like to improve.

    In our experience, interdisciplinary teams can struggle to reach this point—the point where team members are teaching their own curricula but still have a cohesive vision for improvement around literacy instruction across and within individual disciplines. We truly feel it was the pilot space that allowed this theory of action around improvement to be formed. Because the team carved out a space to experience the practices together, they were able to have a real shared curricular knowledge base to draw from as they considered potential changes.

    One clear advantage of interdisciplinary teams who share students is an ability to delve deeply into students’ individual needs and to consider serving them well. But these configurations can create curricular challenges as teams consist of teams that don’t tend to share curricula. This can make curricular improvement challenging as teachers can face demands for improvement without any collaborators specific to their own disciplines and particular curricula.

    Some schools and districts have approached this by connecting math teachers, for example, across the building or across schools. But this team’s inquiry learning together presents an interesting model for curricular improvement on a true interdisciplinary team that can lead to curricula improvement and interdisciplinary synergy.

    The teachers at the heart of this story are Jacqueline Hallo, Christina Collins, Sheila Jaung, Pamela Penwarden, John Padula, and Marisa Ricci, who are all educators at the Edith C. Baker School in Brookline, Massachusetts.

    Christina L. Dobbs is program director and assistant professor of English education at Boston University. 

    Jacy Ippolito is an associate professor and department chair of the Secondary and Higher Education Department for the School of Education at Salem State University in Massachusetts.

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